Kathy Sprague and her best friend David Henson came out to one another on Sprague”s 18th birthday.
Her 28th birthday was Henson”s funeral. He died of HIV complications.
“So for my 30th birthday, since my 28th was so lousy, I decided I would have a drag show,” Sprague said. “We rented a hall, I convinced a batch of friends to put on dresses and it was crazy. It was a lot of fun.”
Six weeks later Sprague and her friends put on another show, this time to celebrate the late Henson”s 30th birthday. Soon the shows became frequent, and what began as parties soon became the premiere queer event of the Palouse.
Saturday night”s TabiKat Productions drag show, held at the BellTower in Pullman, marked 21 years since the first show.
The music was loud, the dance floor was crowded and genders were ambiguous – and even over two decades later, the show brought the same judgment-free zone that TabiKat founders Sprague and her wife Tabitha Simmons strive to define the shows with.
Before the night”s performers hit the stage, Sprague took the microphone and reminded guests how far the drag shows have come.
“We were it for the queers,” Sprague said in reference to the lack of LGBT support in the area when the drag shows first began.
The crowd of people young and old, sitting stacked on the floor, in pews and against the walls, cheered wildly.
“When Tabitha and I got married last October, we started getting messages from people who had gone to the drag shows when they were in college, saying “You kept me alive,”” Sprague said. “And that safe space was so important in those days. It”s still important, but it used to be your one chance – and it was one night a month.”
Then, to an eruption of approval, she added, “Now we”re gonna have fun.” What ensued encompassed glamour, sparkle and Spanx in a montage of diva drag queens, country drag kings, Pokemon variations and even a rockabilly bioqueen (a woman doing drag as a woman), and performers both new and experienced. Dollar bills waved in the hands of audience members, soon to be scooped up by a performer dancing amidst the crowd – either by hand or mouth.
Drag queen Aquasha DeLusty, known off-stage as Gordon Mellott of Essence Salon in Moscow, emceed the anniversary event and performed three times, much to the delight of an audience accustomed to DeLusty”s crude humor and over-the-top performances.
“When I first met (Sprague) I was just a shy little boy,” DeLusty said.
DeLusty, who has been with TabiKat for 13 years, said being a part of the shows has built confidence in both her performance skills and outside career.
“I see myself old and decrepit, still doing drag,” DeLusty said of her future as Sprague acted out a hypothetically old, cantankerous DeLusty at the 50th anniversary TabiKat show, nagging her husband Rob to help her put on her pumps.
With a laugh, DeLusty admits, “That”s probably really accurate.”
Chris Bailey, seen sitting beside the dance floor before the first set watching his wife spin wildly to the music, said they come to TabiKat”s shows often to see friends perform.
“(TabiKat Productions has) been very welcoming to us as a heterosexual couple,” Bailey said. “They want everyone to feel comfortable.”
Bailey noted that while other drag shows he and his wife have attended err on the side of raunchy, TabiKat shows tend to be milder, allowing the younger performers” parents to comfortably attend.
Still, as with many events in the queer community, parent apprehension is common, said Kristen Jones, UI”s Delta Gamma housemother.
Jones said she has been attending the TabiKat drag shows for nearly 12 years. She first attended a show when her daughter came out to her and started performing as a drag king, she said.
“I”ve always tried to support my children and all they”ve done,” Jones said.
This philosophy began to transcend supporting her own children when Jones began taking kids who had come out to unsupportive parents under her wing. As a result, she is fondly known as “Mom” to the TabiKat crew.
“I found it so hard to understand. People are just people – all going through the same struggles, all trying to find love,” Jones said. “So when Kathy first asked me to come support the kids whose parents never came, I came, and I brought cookies.”
Jones said when she mentions drag, people often cringe, but that the TabiKat shows are a joyous place.
“(The shows) have opened my eyes to so much fun. I am proud to call these people my friends,” Jones said. “I am so blessed to have this in my life.”
UI sophomore Michael Edwards began attending the drag shows over a year ago and recently began performing at TabiKat”s bingo nights at One World Cafe the second Monday of every month.
Edwards, whose drag persona is Virginia Mary, said he has seen TabiKat”s genuine concern for LGBT acceptance and safety during his short time performing drag. Once, after a bingo night, Edwards had planned to walk back to campus alone and Sprague wouldn”t have it.
“They really care,” Edwards said. “They didn”t want one of their queens walking home alone after 10 at night.”
Creating safe spaces for the LGBT community is something Sprague highlighted in her closing remarks following the second set of performances. She placed an empty chair front and center and said it represented everyone who couldn”t be at the show that night – Henson and anyone else lost to viruses, hate crimes or suicide.
“That”s the legacy I wanna leave. I want you to have a good life, I don”t want to fear like I did when I was younger. (Tabitha) turned around and kissed me at the Garden Lounge one night and I feared for our lives,” Sprague said. “So remember, every freedom you have, somebody worked for. It”s safer, but it”s not entirely safe. In a perfect world, we could wear what we want, we could be who we want, we would always, always be safe. But we”re not, so please take care of yourselves.”